As preppers we are under some pressure. We are naturally concerned about water purification, food storage, defensive weapons, bug out locations, and the list of challenges is seemingly endless. We worry about a total collapse of the financial world, a global pandemic, solar flares, or other crisis. There is certainly no shortage of concerns. Have we done enough? Do we have enough? Are we knowledgeable enough? Once in a while, I think we should all take a deep breath, relax, and have some fun!
What follows is a brief explanation of Geocaching– a fun activity that can be easily adapted to actually benefit your prepping.
For those that are not familiar with the term, Geocaching is an outdoor game akin to treasure hunting that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS). Geocachers use a GPS unit to navigate to a set of coordinates that are published on a website (Geocaching.com) and then attempt to find the geocache hidden at that location.
What is a geocache? It is usually a container that can be as small as the head of a bolt (a very small cache is called a “nano”) or as large as a vehicle. (I have found caches as large as a Volkswagen bus and an industrial air conditioner unit!) Usually, a regular sized cache is hidden in an old military ammo can or some Tupperware.
Geocaching was started in 2000. On May 2, the “Big Blue Switch” was thrown and 24 satellites worldwide instantly improved and upgraded civilian GPS technology. The next day, Dave Ulmer tested the accuracy of the new technology by hiding a black bucket with a log book in the woods near Beaver Creek, Oregon. He noted the GPS coordinates and published them on a website to see if others could find what he had hidden. Mike Teague found the “stash” first, and the new sport/game/hobby was born. The term Geocaching was first coined by Matt Stum by the end of that same month. The name was taken from “geo” (meaning Earth) and “cache” (the French word to describe a hiding place to temporarily store items or provisions).
First off, to get into Geocaching you need to be just a bit technical. You will need a GPS unit (or a smart phone) and access to the Internet. Go to www.Geocaching.com and click on “learn” for more information and a tutorial. You can begin to play immediately . . . for FREE! A basic membership is no charge. Pick a username and a password and off you go! One may purchase a premium membership for a small fee, but it is not necessary.
On the website, you can search for geocaches near your location, wherever that might be. At this writing there are nearly 2,500,000 caches worldwide and more than six million geocachers. Caches are everywhere– in cities, towns, forests, cemeteries, historical locations, and even on the International Space Station! You will probably be astounded at the number of geocaches in your neighborhood.
Once you get the coordinates of a cache, use your GPS to guide you to the area of the cache. The cache will be well hidden, and you will probably have to do some searching. Once you find the cache, you sign a paper log that is contained within the cache to prove that you found it and later sign the electronic log on the website to score a find. The website keeps count of your finds and their locations. The cache may also include “swag,” a term for items that you can trade.
All right, it’s an interesting, fun, or even a strange game, but why is it of any interest to a prepper? Consider the points to follow, and you may find that Geocaching could be a perfect fit to your preparation, skill acquisition, and training.
First, you will become very familiar and even adept at using a GPS unit. If you currently have a GPS, do you really know how to use it? Have you calibrated it? What about TEOTWAWKI ? It is expected that the GPS system will stay operational for at least a little while after a catastrophic event, but your experience learned while engaged in Geocaching will also include learning about maps, topographical features, and latitude and longitude coordinates. This game has very similar characteristics with orienteering and your skill with a compass will benefit you as well. I always have a compass with me when Geocaching, and both the GPS and the compass will become your new best friends.
You will soon find that your attention to detail will improve, drastically. You will be looking for anything that appears to be out of the ordinary– a rock that is not like others in the area or fallen tree branches that seemed to be piled up against the base of a tree. Remember that a cache could be any number of things. I once found a cache inside of what looked like a discarded ink pen on a busy urban outdoor mall. Many rural caches are found by observing a “geo-trail” of vegetation that is tramped down, thereby indicating that a number of people walked through an area. As a result, your “tracking” skills will also improve. This situational awareness can serve you well in times of strife and stress.
The caches themselves will teach you about camouflage. You will be amazed at some of the detail and time spent to hide caches, sometimes in plain sight. It becomes obvious as to what patterns and colors to use to match the particular surroundings. This knowledge can extend into the camouflaging of your equipment and bug-out gear. This goes for urban as well as rural environments. Some of the best camouflaged geocaches that I have found have been in urban settings.
Also, geocaching can prepare you for caching! If you have a prepper interest in caching certain items for safekeeping, Geocaching will teach you what types of containers stay dry, how and where to successfully hide containers, and how to erase signs of you being at the cache site. Naturally, Geocaching never involves the actual caching of weapons, ammunition, food items, and so forth, but lessons learned by one activity can benefit the other.
Geocaching will get you outside and in nature. You will learn about local flora and fauna while engaged in the game. I have seen some great natural sights and memorable glimpses of wildlife while Geocaching. If Geocaching in rural areas, you will eventually learn about poison ivy, ticks, snakes, chiggers, bears, sabre-toothed cats, and Bigfoot, and how to avoid them all (or whatever you confront)!
This sport will get you out in parks, back roads, trails, and other public lands in your area. You will become more familiar with these locations that may become very important in the event of TEOTWAWKI. Of course, there is the added benefit of visiting places that you have not been before. All of my vacations now include a bit of Geocaching. Geocaching may take you near to a spot that could be considered for a bug out location or you may discover an alternate route home from work. At any rate, you will be hiking, which is great exercise and preparation for any situation that may occur. If you add a couple of water bottles, lunch fixings, and a backpacker’s stove to a day bag, you have a built-in TEOTWAWKI and bug-out training session that is actually fun to do and provides healthy exercise. You could even break in those new hiking boots that you scored on sale.
Speaking of fun, Geocaching is a family game. Most of the regular-sized caches contain trading items that keep children interested in the game. Even teens can get caught up in an adventure involving an extreme Geocaching goal. Remember that a few caches are challenging in both the surrounding terrain and the difficulty of the cache itself. There are mountaintop caches, underwater caches, caches in caves, puzzle caches, and the list goes on. Geocaching is an activity that can include the entire family and can have “teachable moments”, like learning how far is too far to walk with a day pack or which rain gear works without making you sweat out precious water.
While Geocaching, you will meet others who enjoy the outdoors, maybe presenting some networking possibilities. Geocachers are nice folk. Please, always keep OPSEC in your mind though. You may or may not find like-minded individuals, although Geocaching is popular with scouting and church groups and has been used for team building exercises for youth groups and leadership forums. You will also meet business owners, managers, custodians, park staff, and others who would like to know just what the heck you are doing!
Geocaching events are held regularly and enable geocachers to meet and network with each other. These events count as caches and enable you to put a face with the name that you have been seeing on those cache logs in the neighborhood.
Speaking of meeting others, for the most part you want to be as stealthy as possible, while actually seeking a cache. Non-geocachers (termed “Muggles”) find it difficult to understand what you are doing. They may be suspicious of you or your activity even though it is harmless. You will want to try to blend in (another prepper skill) to avoid their scrutiny. The point is to keep the cache location secret so as not to have the cache stolen or destroyed. It is best to try to become a Gray Man and not arouse anyone’s interest. I find that walking my dog provides the best “cover” while looking for a cache and we both get some exercise too. I know of geocachers who wear an orange safety vest and carry a clipboard for “hiding in plain sight!”
For me, the most enjoyable part of Geocaching is going somewhere that I would not have ordinarily gone. Geocaching has taken me to historic places, scenic places, out-of-the-way natural wonders, great little restaurants and even foreign countries. Give it a try with a slant toward preparing for the worst and . . . have some fun!